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UK seeks to boost Latin American exchange

Two British ministers are visiting Brazil, Mexico and Colombia this week, in a bid to increase the low levels of academic exchange with these countries. Business Secretary Vince Cable is in Brazil, which despite its vast population ranks just 38th in the list of countries sending students to the UK (just 1,340 in 2011-12).

Business Secretary Vince Cable will promote UK universities in Brazil

“Universities in the UK have growing links with their counterparts in Latin America"

Universities Minister David Willetts will meanwhile visit Colombia and Mexico, which sent 925 (45th) and 1,555 (32nd) students to the UK – again relatively low.

Distance is another hurdle, with the USA and Canada seeing more traffic because of their proximity

No new scholarship agreements have been announced. However, Dr Joanna Newman, director of the UK HE International Unit, who is part of the Willetts delegation said that the visits would build stronger ties.

“Universities in the UK have growing links with their counterparts in Latin America and this delegation is an excellent opportunity to take forward these opportunities,” she told The PIE. “Internationalisation is about cooperation and partnership, as well as student recruitment, and discussions held at a government level can act as a catalyst to develop new initiatives.”

Before the trip, Willetts had heralded the success of Brazil’s ‘Science without Borders’ mobility programme in attracting Brazilian students to the UK. The scheme funds talented students for a year abroad (which includes a work placement). It has brought 1,100 undergraduates to the UK and should be worth £220 million to the UK economy.

Willetts added that attracting more students from emerging economies such as Brazil, Colombia and Mexico would lead to other forms of engagement, such as study exchanges for UK students and research collaborations.

“Discussions held at a government level can act as a catalyst to develop new initiatives”

Barriers to mobility remain despite the strong reputation of British education in the region. Colombian agents have told The PIE that the UK’s tightened visa regime makes it harder to get student visas. The Higher Education Statistics Agency said that numbers from Brazil, Colombia and Mexico had remained static over the last few years.

Distance is another hurdle, with the USA and Canada seeing more traffic because of their proximity to Latin America.

Education is just one of the areas in which the UK would like to increase trade with Latin America. “It’s vital that businesses showcase our world-class capability to manufacturers in markets like Brazil so we can take advantage of new opportunities and get more jobs in the UK,” Cable said.

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